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Do the U.S. and Mexico care about the Gold Cup anymore?

Gold Cup
 By Nayib Moran

Andres Guardado has unfinished business to settle in La Liga

When Andres Guardado left Valencia for PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2014, he left La Liga as a left-back. Three years later, Guardado returns to Spain to play for Real Betis in the role of a central midfielder. Betis manager Quique Setien had his wish fulfilled, because he was looking for a central midfielder like Guardado who was capable of playing in front of the center-backs and projecting the team forward. Guardado's desire to make a career for himself in Europe has been tested, and now he has the opportunity to once again play in La Liga and prove how far he has come as a footballer since signing with Deportivo La Coruna exactly 10 years ago.

After playing for Deportivo between 2007 and 2012 and making the jump to Valencia from 2012 to 2014, Guardado is a name that is not new in La Liga. His arrival to Deportivo was applauded, and it didn't take him long to showcase why in the 2006 World Cup, when then-Mexico manager Ricardo La Volpe put him in El Tri's starting XI against Argentina in the round of 16.

However, he did hit bumps along the way. In the 2010 World Cup, Guardado played only 142 minutes for Javier Aguirre's Mexico. In the 2010-11 season, Deportivo was relegated. But just when all was looking lost, Guardado gave one of his best seasons in Spain's Liga Adelante to help Deportivo get promoted right away. He finished the 2011-12 season with 11 goals and 12 assists in Spain's second division.

Guardado moved to Valencia to fulfill a dream to play Champions League football, which he did, but he never left a mark at Estadio Mestalla. Six months before the 2014 World Cup, Valencia loaned him for six months to Bayer Leverkusen, but his stay there wasn't successful either.

Playing in the 2014 World Cup made a deep impact in his game that persists to this day. The confidence he received from then-Mexico boss Miguel "Piojo" Herrera helped catapult him to where he is now as a reliable central midfielder. Although he played with El Tri as a left midfielder in the 2014 World Cup, the newfound confidence he gained there showed right away at PSV.

Andres Guardado made the transition from left-back to central midfielder while with PSV Eindhoven.

Two of the three seasons he played in the Netherlands, PSV won the Eredivisie. Having Phillip Cocu as manager helped him become a complete midfielder, one who has only gotten better with age and experience. In 2016, former Mexican central midfielder Pavel Pardo shared his impressions on Guardado's successful time at PSV with ESPN FC.

"With years in your bag, you become more experienced. You lose velocity, you lose other skills, but you win in experience, intelligence and in different forms of seeing the game," Pardo said.

"The speed of the game is not only measured by the velocity you can take, but also by the mind's velocity. And at the end of it all with technical, gifted players like Guardado, they get better with age and experience," he said.

The changes at Betis will be profound. About 12 departures are expected, and among them could be Dani Ceballos, who was named the best player of this summer's Under-21 European Championship, even though Spain lost the final to Germany 1-0. Betis is expected to have up to 10 new additions.

Setien, who coached Las Palmas last season and led the club to an unprecedented two draws against league champions Real Madrid, has been selected by the club to get Betis back on the map as one of the league's protagonists. Setien's Las Palmas played an attractive, attacking style of football that fits Guardado's way of seeing the game.

The 30-year-old midfielder's decision to play at Betis' Estadio Benito Villamarin came despite rumors that he was on the verge of accepting an offer to play for Los Angeles FC starting in the 2018 season.

With his decision to help Setien get Betis back on track in La Liga, Guardado once again proves his desire to keep improving. After three successful seasons with PSV, he feels ready to give La Liga another shot and become Los Beticos' thermometer in the midfield. Benat Etxebarria, who played for Betis between 2010 and 2013, was the last commanding central midfielder the club had.

Mexico manager Juan Carlos Osorio will approve this move mainly because he will have one of El Tri's captains playing in La Liga. In the past Confederations Cup, Mexico's most consistent player was Jonathan dos Santos, who plays for La Liga side Villarreal CF.

If all goes well, Guardado will win over the Betis faithful just like he did at PSV.

Nayib Moran covers Liga MX and the Mexican national team for ESPN FC. Twitter: @nayibmoran.


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